Fan-favorite Yuta Watanabe leaves Raptors, signs with Nets

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - FEBRUARY 14: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - FEBRUARY 14: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors unearthed a real gem when they found Yuta Watanabe in the scrap heap of the G League. Just a few years ago, Watanabe was trying to latch on long-term with the Memphis Grizzlies. Since then, he’s proven he can stick in the NBA by exhibiting a solid blend of improved offensive skills and defensive hustle.

With a 6-9 frame that allowed him to defend multiple positions, a much-improved jump shot, and the tireless effort that helped earn him his first batch of rabid fans, Watanabe willed his way into the rotation. He was one of the few bright spots from the Tampa season.

Unfortunately, the Raptors appeared ready to move on from their Japanese stud despite the fact Watanabe said he wanted to return. With Toronto’s training camp roster finalized, Yuta decided to leave the Raptors and join a team with fantastic odds of winning a championship.

The Brooklyn Nets announced that they have signed Watanabe to a contract that will likely have him competing to make the final roster. Considering how Watanabe was rattling around the minor leagues a few years ago, the fact he’s earned another NBA deal speaks to his quality.

Toronto Raptors SF Yuta Watanabe signed with the Nets.

Watanabe, one of only four players in NBA history that were born in Japan, averaged 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game during parts of two seasons with the Raptors. After struggling early on, Watanabe managed to correct his 3-point shot and connect on 37% of his attempts from deep.

Watanabe might not be a lockdown defender, but his short-area quickness and length enabled him to be a dominant shot-swatter when matched up against smaller wings. He should be a big help for a Nets team that needs to surround their superstar trio with a collection of defensively-minded role players.

Unfortunately, Watanabe is coming off a season in which he was excommunicated entirely from the rotation during the second half of the season. On such a star-studded Nets roster, there is a chance that Watanabe will once again be relegated to spot duty at the end of decided games.

While it’s certainly bittersweet to see Watanabe leave the Raptors for a team in the division, it’ll be cool to see him in the thick of what promises to be a cutthroat championship race. Watanabe didn’t have the longest Raptors career, but he made himself a much-beloved figure.

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